Ever been to a friend’s basement or had people over to your own to hang out, watch the game, and have a few drinks only to find everyone crammed in a corner trying to get a good seat on the L-shaped sofa so they could have the optimal viewing angle, an end table to set their drink on, and are within arm’s reach of the coffee table for potato chip access? It doesn’t sound so bad. Then you realize nobody is at the recently installed bar or using the pool table, and you wonder why so much money went into something that only amounts to a showpiece.
This is what happens when a crucial step is skipped in remodeling your basement. You have the list of things you want, but you haven’t taken the time to envision how everything will be utilized in the available space. Jerry Schmidt of Dream House Dream Kitchens says, “We always try to encourage people to not think of the basement as the black sheep of the house. If you’re going to finish it off, you should actually finish it off to the same level of the rest of the house so it doesn’t feel like just your secondary space or that type of thing. It should feel like an extension of the rest of the home.” Which isn’t to say that the basement doesn’t have a uniqueness to it, but descending the stairs should feel like a transition to another part of the house and not a removal from it.
Leading to another hurdle—getting people into the basement. I always picture having this 12-foot bar with tappers and corny kegs when I get around to finishing my basement. That could work, but what’s the draw when the living room is just fine? “Everyone always thinks of finishing off their bar like they’re going to put in this giant wet bar, and they’re going to have Packer parties all the time,” says Jerry. “But the truth is when most people have friends and family over, they don’t even make it down to the basement because the kitchen is just kind of the center of the home. That’s where everyone congregates, and that’s where all the food is.”
A great place to start getting people to the basement is proper lighting. Jerry says, “Basements can already feel like the cave of the house. … If, even on a cold winter day or a rainy drizzly day, you go down there and you have plenty of light, the space feels better.” Well-placed lighting actually draws people to different spaces. True, you can try to light up the basement like the first floor, allowing in as much natural light as possible, but I’m personally attracted to a refined pub look. Lighting over a table, bar, and pool or shuffleboard table tells people where to congregate.
What a professional brings to the picture is the ability to see the whole picture. They’ve been doing remodels for years, sometimes decades, and their knowledge goes beyond trends. They know what works. Instead of just developing a space because it seems convenient, the real questions that need to be asked are how do you envision people interacting with this area and how do we make that happen. “We’re not just finishing off basements for the purpose of putting up walls,” says Jerry. “Finding a way to move people through the room is a bit of an art. … You’d hate to have a huge basement space, and everyone just hangs out in 25 percent of it.”
As mentioned, lighting is big part of encouraging interactions with spaces, but light doesn’t just involve a source. Different finishes for countertops and furniture, as well as carpeting, tile, and vinyl flooring, determine how light highlights a space. High-gloss surfaces brighten areas but also create a sheen.
Sometimes a mixture of the above flooring and finishes is the right choice. “Carpet is a good absorber of sounds,” says Jerry. It’s also easier on the feet if you’re barefoot. Vinyl flooring has the longevity aspect to it, though it can be cold. All these things are going to influence where people want to hang out. Something as simple as mounting multiple televisions can help your guests feel free to move about the area.
There’s no one right way to do a basement. But whatever way is right for you, making a space where you and your guests feel comfortable is essential to creating something that will be used regularly for years to come.
Kyle Jacobson is the senior copy editor and writer for Home Elements & Concepts.
Photographs provided by Dream House Dream Kitchens.
Dream House Dream Kitchens
5117 Verona Road
Fitchburg, WI 53711